BLOG Reginald Francis

NWR Issue 116

Woman of Flowers: Aberystwyth Arts Centre

In Theatr Pena’s latest production, Woman Of Flowers, the Welsh legend of Blodeuwedd unfolds with a rich blend of tragedy, dance, cinematic audio and visual effects. The legend comes from the fourth branch of the Mabinogi and tells of Arianrhod (portrayed on stage by Betsan Llwyd), who gives birth to an enchanted boy, Llew (Oliver Morgan-Thomas), whom she refuses to raise. Llew is brought up by Arianrhod’s sorcerer brother, Gwydion (played by Eiry Thomas). Cursed to never marry a human woman, Gwydion creates for Llew a woman made of flowers called Blodeuwedd, (interpreted by Sara Gregory).

Blodeuwedd’s paganistic, inhuman sexual liberty conflicts with the rigidity of patriarchal human society, so, with the hesitant assistance of her handmaid Rhagnell, played by Olwen Rees, Blodeuwedd has an affair with a Hunter called Gronw (Rhys Meredith).

The play was adapted by Welsh writer and translator, Siôn Eirian, after Saunders Lewis. Unlike Lewis’ version, however, the performance explores with sophisticated artistry the concept of freedom and the complex relations between men and women.

Morgan-Thomas portrayed Llew dressed all in black with a chain hanging from his belt. His delivery and body language seemed stunted – his arms often hung limp at his side and his intonation did not vary in its emotional range. Nevertheless, although the enchanted and emotionally unstable elements of the character could have been more deeply explored, Morgan-Thomas’ performance appropriately served in the creation of a suffocating atmosphere in which Blodeuwedd has become imprisoned.

If Morgan-Thomas was static, Gregory’s Blodeuwedd was fluid and thoroughly engaging. Like the meadow flowers from whence she came, Gregory’s Blodeuwedd continually undulated her movements, continually touching and pulling at her hair and body – emphasising the sense that she is trapped in the fleshy prison of her human form. The affair with Gronw was performed with high energy, her shrill voice conveying a manic intensity as her lust transitioned into a desire for murder. Blodeuwedd is an inhuman character, and Gregory effectively reduced her role’s emotions into purely beast-like intensity. Depite this, she achieved a very human performance that captured the rawness of young or inexperienced passion. Despite her immoral actions, this relatable evocation of emotion assisted in highlighting the tragedy and injustice of being created for the sole purpose of satisfying Llew.

Meredith’s Gronw commanded a strong presence on stage with his confident stance and deep, proud vocals. As Gronw’s guilt deepened, however, his performance gradually descended with a softening of his voice and a physical shrinking in his posture. Meredith cleverly portrayed two extremes of human emotion, from the boldness of lust and ambition to the burden of guilt and a grudging adherence to the powers of morality.

Despite the fact that Gwydion is the cause of the play’s tragedy, Thomas’ performance provided a high-spirited puck-like presence on stage. Her entrance at the start of the play was excitingly unexpected: she sprung from a pile of petals that lay centre stage before the scene began. Thomas’ performance reinforced the complicated dynamic between liberated natural wildness and rigid human tradition. Gwydion is both spirit and physical being, beast and human; however, (s)he is also gender-fluid with the ability to transition, like some insects, from male to female. Thomas’ consistently positive, energetic body language and bold, proud voice created a feeling of utter liberty, and yet, he retained a sense of dedication and earnest support of Llew with an avuncular tone of voice in all of their interactions. Ultimately, Thomas’ Gwydion represents the conflicting puzzle of life: the danger and safety, the joy and misery.

Of all the characters, however, it is Llwyd’s Arianrhod who achieved the most powerful stage presence. With half of her face painted white, Llwyd haunted the performance, remaining on stage for almost every scene, looking on with an expression of pained disquiet as the action unfolded.

In the final act, it is revealed that Arianrhod gave birth to Llew as a result of being raped by her brother, Gwydion. When she speaks one of her final lines, ‘Old before my time. Deserted by you all. Dishonored. And I disown you all’, Llwyd’s exasperated dejected tone of voice helped the audience understand the extent to which the character has suffered. In many interpretations of this story, Arianrhod is depicted as the villain for neglecting Llew, but Llwyd’s performance humanised her and elevated the subtle complexity of the character.

Theatr Pena is truly living up to its manifesto of creating ‘opportunities for women’, not only by using a predominantly female cast but by retelling a story in which the sufferings and emotions of female characters are explored in exciting new ways.

Reginald Francis is a Masters candidate in Literary Studies in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University.

This production was shown at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 27 February, 2018.


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